The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Production Co: Element Pictures
Studio: A24
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer: Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthymis Filippou
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sonny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp

Having seen a couple of Yorgos Lanthimos' movies since he became an indie movie darling on a global basis I think I've been able to form a general opinion of him as an artist, and it's this; he's like a museum – very fine, very hard-edged and very cold. Like his other movies, this is the cinematic equivalent of a piece of unyielding brutalist architecture.

His stories have emotion, don't get me wrong, but he seems most interested in people who behave in a stiffly formal way and whose emotions are prised from them by force of some horrible or dramatic circumstance.

In this case the Murphy family, parents Steven (Colin Farrell) and Anna (Nicole Kidman), teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and preteen son Bob (Sonny Suljic) are reflections of their environment – and the design of the movie as a whole. Their home, workplaces and relations with each other are straight lined, formal, prickly, glass-like and hard edged, as clinical, unsullied and white as the halls of the hospital or the lab coat Steven wears in his duties as a cardiovascular surgeon.

Even the couples' sex life is ridden with terrified stillness and a lack of emotional connection, Anna pretending to be a patient under anaesthetic and lie deathly still apparently the only way to turn her husband on.

He's even stiffly formal with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a young man he has an unexplained relationship with, meeting him during work hours, giving him gifts, acting as some sort of surrogate father/patron to him.

When Bob collapses, his legs suddenly paralysed for no discernible reason, Steven and Anna are understandably frantic (while remaining straight backed and genteel about it all). Bob is admitted to Steven's hospital and despite a room full of some of the best doctors in the country working on his case, there's no apparent reason for the boy's affliction.

While he desperately tries to hold his family together and save his son, Steven is frustrated with Martin's insistence on seeing him, rebuffing the younger man several times before he finally relents and agrees to see him for 10 minutes in the hospital cafeteria.

Martin drops a bombshell - his father didn't die in a car accident, as we've previously learned. He died at Steven's hands in the subsequent surgery, and Martin has been ingratiating himself into the Murphy's lives to exact revenge.

Martin is apparently some sort of supernatural/fairytale creature, telling Steven that until one of the Murphys dies – and he doesn't care which one – they'll all go through three stages of illness – lower body paralysis, disinterest in food and bleeding from the eyes until they all die anyway.

Steven kicks the young man out of his life and washes his hands of him, but Bob gets no better, then refuses to eat, and when Kim collapses during a school recital and loses her own lower body function Steven can't ignore Martin's prediction any more. It seems some kind of spell has been cast on his family and he'll have no choice but to kill one of them as payment for Martin's father or lose them all.

I didn't really expect the script to explain exactly what kind of magical powers Martin has – I understand it's more interesting left unexplained and I also understand how it was just foil for the plot, simply not one of the elements Lanthimos was most interested in.

But the rest of it is so unshakeably still and devoid of dramatic heat, all perpendicular angles and expressionistic passion that a bit more story might have carried me further while the rest of it left me so cold.

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